OLR Bill Analysis

HB 7201 (as amended by House "A")*

AN ACT APPLYING THE SHEFF DEFINITION OF REDUCED-ISOLATION SETTING TO ALL INTERDISTRICT MAGNET SCHOOLS IN THE STATE.

SUMMARY

This bill creates new student enrollment standards for determining state operating grant eligibility for all magnet schools, replacing three different categories of standards in current law. These new standards apply to grant eligibility beginning in FY 18 (i.e., the 2017-18 school year). For FY 18, the bill creates uniform standards for both Sheff and non-Sheff magnet schools, but in FY 19 it gives the education commissioner the authority to create an alternative standard for reduced-isolation student enrollment for Sheff magnet schools in order to comply with the Sheff stipulation and order that will be in effect at that future time.

Current law allows the State Department of Education (SDE) to establish a magnet school operating grant program for two different types of magnet schools: (1) Sheff interdistrict magnet schools, which are located in the Sheff region (i.e., greater Hartford) and were created in response to the Connecticut Supreme Court's Sheff v. O'Neill decision, and (2) non-Sheff interdistrict magnet schools, which have no location restrictions. While both types of magnet schools encourage racial, ethnic, and economic diversity, the law currently applies three different student enrollment standards when determining if magnet schools are eligible for state operating grants: one for Sheff magnets, and two for non-Sheff magnets that vary based on when the school was established.

The bill replaces these three different categories of enrollment standards with a new set of standards, which require all magnet school operators to (1) cap participating district enrollment at 75% of total school enrollment and (2) adhere to newly created “reduced-isolation setting standards” established by the education commissioner. For FY 18, these new standards require the same reduced-isolation student enrollment percentages for both Sheff and non-Sheff magnet schools (a minimum of 20% of total student enrollment, with some exceptions), and they allow the commissioner to create an alternative reduced-isolation student enrollment percentage for Sheff magnet schools beginning in FY 19 (see Table 1 below). The bill allows the commissioner to define “reduced-isolation student.”

Under the bill, these reduced-isolation setting standards must be created by the commissioner by July 1, 2017, and are not considered agency regulations. Beginning in FY 18, the bill generally prohibits the commissioner from awarding operating grants to magnet schools that fail to meet these new standards, but it also gives her the discretion to award the grants to noncompliant schools while assisting them with their efforts to regain eligibility. The bill also gives her the authority to impose a financial penalty for consecutive years of ineligibility.

The bill also makes technical and conforming changes.

*House Amendment “A” replaces the underlying bill (File 549), which applied the current Sheff magnet school student enrollment diversity standard (i.e., “reduced isolation standard” as defined in the 2013 Sheff stipulation and order) to non-Sheff magnet schools, which requires that total student enrollment not exceed 75% of students who identify as black/African American or any part Hispanic.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2017

MAGNET SCHOOL OPERATING GRANT ELIGIBILITY STANDARDS

Table 1 below compares state operating grant eligibility criteria for Sheff and non-Sheff magnet schools under current law with those under the bill.

Table 1: Sheff and Non-Sheff Magnet School State Operating Grant Eligibility

Magnet School Type

Operating Grant Eligibility under Current Law

(CGS 10-264l(a))

Operating Grant Eligibility under the Bill

FY 18

FY 19

Non-Sheff magnet school operating prior to July 1, 2005

No more than 80% of enrolled students may come from a participating district

No more than 75% of enrolled students may come from a participating district

Enrolled students must meet the education commissioner's new reduced isolation standards, which must contain a minimum 20% reduced-isolation student enrollment percentage, with an alternative minimum percentage at most 2% lower for certain non-compliant districts (see Development of Reduced-Isolation Setting Standards below)

Non-Sheff magnet school operating on or after July 1, 2005

No more than 75% of enrolled students may come from a participating district

At least 25%, but no more than 75%, of enrolled students may be racial minorities (i.e., of a race other than white, or of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity)

Sheff magnet school

The number of enrolled students that may come from a participating district must be no more than 75% of enrolled students identifying as black/African American or any part Hispanic (i.e., meets the Sheff 2013 stipulation reduced isolation standard)

Same as non-Sheff magnet schools

No more than 75% of enrolled students may come from a participating district

Enrolled students must meet the education commissioner's new reduced isolation standards, which may contain an alternative reduced-isolation student enrollment percentage that, among other things, comply with the Sheff stipulation or order in effect (see Development of Reduced-Isolation Setting Standards below)

Development of Reduced-Isolation Setting Standards

Under the bill, these commissioner-developed standards must do the following:

1. define the term “reduced-isolation student” for purposes of the standards;

2. establish a requirement for the minimum percentage of reduced-isolation students that can be enrolled in an interdistrict magnet school program, as long as this percentage is at least 20% of total school enrollment; and

3. allow a magnet school to have a total school enrollment of reduced-isolation students that does not exceed 2% below the minimum percentage established by the commissioner, as long as the commissioner approves a plan designed to bring the number of reduced-isolation students in the magnet school into compliance with the minimum percentage.

Additionally, these standards must, on or after July 1, 2018, authorize the commissioner to establish an alternative reduced-isolation student enrollment percentage for Sheff magnet schools, as long as she does the following:

1. determines that this alternative percentage (a) complies with the Sheff v. O'Neill decision or any related stipulation or order in effect and (b) increases opportunities for Hartford resident students to access an educational setting with reduced racial isolation or other categories of diversity, including geography, socioeconomic status, special education, English language learners, and academic achievement and

2. approves a plan for such magnet school that is designed to bring the number of reduced-isolation students into compliance with this alterative percentage or the minimum percentage described above.

Failure to Meet Reduced-Isolation Setting Standards

Under the bill, beginning in FY 18, any Sheff or non-Sheff magnet school that fails to meet the commissioner's new reduced-isolation setting standards and exceeds the 75% participating district student enrollment cap is generally ineligible to receive a state operating grant; however, the commissioner may award the grant for an additional year or years if she (1) determines it is appropriate to do so and (2) approves a plan to bring the school into compliance with the reduced-isolation setting standards.

Under current law, there are different award eligibility exceptions for non-Sheff and Sheff magnet schools that fail to meet reduced-isolation setting standards. For noncompliant non-Sheff magnet schools, the commissioner may award a grant for good cause for only one additional year. For noncompliant Sheff magnet schools, the commissioner may award a grant to for an additional year or years if she finds it appropriate for purposes of the state complying with the 2013 Sheff stipulation and order. This stipulation and order provides that such school must operate under a state-approved enrollment management plan that demonstrates compliance with the standard within an agreed upon period.

Financial Penalty

If a magnet school fails to meet the commissioner-developed reduced-isolation setting standards for two or more consecutive years, the bill allows the commissioner to impose a financial penalty on the magnet school's operator, or take any other measure in consultation with the operator, as appropriate to help the operator come into compliance.

BACKGROUND

Interdistrict Magnet Schools

These schools have a program that (1) supports racial, ethnic, and economic diversity; (2) offers a special and high quality curriculum; and (3) requires students who are enrolled to attend at least half-time. Regional agricultural science and technology schools, technical high schools, and regional special education centers are not considered magnet schools (CGS 10-264l(a)).

Sheff v. O'Neill Decision

In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in Sheff that the racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of Hartford public school students violated their right to a “substantially equal educational opportunity” under the state constitution (238 Conn. 1 (1996)). It ordered the state and the plaintiff's representatives to work out an agreement, which since has been renewed several times, for the voluntary desegregation of Hartford students.

Sheff Region

This region includes the school districts of Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, East Granby, East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Hartford, Manchester, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, South Windsor, Suffield, Vernon, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor, and Windsor Locks.

2013 Sheff Stipulation and Order

This stipulated agreement between the Sheff v. O'Neill parties establishes a timetable for the state to make additional progress in reducing the racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of Hartford public school students. The agreement, known as Phase III, runs from December 13, 2013 to June 30, 2015. (It was since extended twice by the parties to run through June 30, 2017.)

COMMITTEE ACTION

Education Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

29

Nay

3

(03/24/2017)